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PR - Art or Science

PR - Art or Science

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Published by siscani
Public relations seems like a self-explanatory
term, yet after more than a century as a profession, a business, and a
process, controversy and confusion might be greater than ever about
what public relations is and what it does. Most people would probably
agree that PR is an information function, but that would likely be
the point at which agreement ended.
Public relations seems like a self-explanatory
term, yet after more than a century as a profession, a business, and a
process, controversy and confusion might be greater than ever about
what public relations is and what it does. Most people would probably
agree that PR is an information function, but that would likely be
the point at which agreement ended.

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Published by: siscani on Oct 06, 2008
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10/12/2010

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21
1
PublicRelations:Art or Science?
P
ublic relations seems like a self-explanatoryterm, yet after more than a century as a profession, a business, and aprocess, controversy and confusion might be greater than ever aboutwhat public relations is and what it does. Most people would proba-bly agree that PR is an information function, but that would likely bethe point at which agreement ended.
 
One Term, Many Meanings,Lots of Misunderstanding
When a scandal becomes the big news of the day, it is not uncommonfor someone to describe those at the center of the scandal as “havinga PR problem.” Well, if they are good people and have been caught upin the scandal unjustly, then public relations might indeed be the bestway to clarify the situation, resolve the issues, and preserve and re-store good reputations—perhaps ultimately leaving the people ineven
better 
standing for having overcome an ordeal. On the otherhand, if those involved in a scandal or charged with wrongdoing are
not
good people, then theirs is
not a PR problem
, but rather a prob-lem with the fact that they are not good people.Contrary to a belief held by many, public relations is not a systemdesigned to make bad people and bad things seem like somethingelse. This is not to suggest that unethical practitioners in PR or anyother profession can’t pull off a sleight of hand and confuse peoplefor a time, but such tactics are, like patches on a bad tire, only tem-porary and ultimately there’s the price to be paid for the deed itself,as well as for the deception.Perhaps one of the greatest areas of misunderstanding is that pub-lic relations is the same as
 publicity
—that PR people are publicists orpress agents and that their only reason to exist is to generate attentionin the media. Public relations is an umbrella term that covers a varietyof areas and functions, including
 communications, community rela-tions, customer relations, consumer affairs, employee relations, industry relations international relations, investor relations, issues management,media relations, member relations, press agentry, promotions, publicity, public affairs, shareholder relations, speechwriting,
and
 visitor relations.
Clearly some of these functions overlap and many are virtuallyindistinguishable from others. They become distinctive in the waysthat individuals, companies, and organizations regard a particularfunction relative to their own needs and objectives. Promotion, forexample, has evolved into a large area of practice that may or maynot be revenue generating, but raises the subject to a higher level of  visibility. Many of the functions listed include the creation, produc-22
Public Relations: The Complete Guide
 
tion, and publication of literature, research reports, surveys, audioand video materials, online programs, newsletters, posters, seminars,or workshops.Agencies may specialize in particular areas, such as financial re-lations, event management, or crisis communications, and a com-pany’s PR department will not necessarily require or desire the fullrange of capabilities or services listed above. It is important, however,to understand that not all experts in one discipline are experts inevery other aspect of public relations.Another misunderstanding about PR gained momentum in the1990s when the term s
 pin
came into common usage and eventuallybecame extremely popular in some media circles. The term was ap-plied to a practice by public relations people that was similar to theefforts of propagandists of another era who focused solely on pro-moting a particular doctrine or point of view, almost at any cost.
Spin
is in fact just putting information in either a positive or negativelight, depending on the side of the issue the presenter is representing.There is nothing devious or sinister about it, though “the spinmeis-ters” and “spin doctors” were often referred to as if they were en-gaged in practicing a form of black magic.Yet another area of confusion has to do with lobbyists, who are inmany instances lawyers or experts on a particular subject, engaged inefforts to persuade regulators and legislators to support or oppose thecreation, expansion, or elimination of certain rules or laws. Typically,lobbyists refer to what they do as a form of public relations, which itis. Unfortunately, the only time the general public hears the term
lob-byist
used is when one is rumored to be exerting unreasonable pres-sure or alleged to have bribed public officials with bags of money or a junket to an island resort.The typical lobbyist tries to persuade bureaucrats by showingwhy a particular education subsidy or airport runway will be goodfor local constituents. Lobbyists are involved on both sides of mostmajor issues, urging or recommending consideration of changes re-garding health care, agriculture, transportation, energy, communica-tions, environmental matters, and most of the lesser issues as well.It’s not all about the heavy-handed wielding of extraordinary powerand huge campaign contributions in small, unmarked bills.
The Theory and Practice of Public Relations
23

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